Thursday, October 27, 2016

Underage Drinking Affects our Communities and Our Children

By: Ray Brownsworth
CEO, Van Buren County Hospital
SAFE Coalition member

In a recent survey conducted on behalf of the SAFE Coalition, drinking was identified as a normal social activity by our middle and high school students. Some may write this off saying this is part of growing up or even a rite of passage. We are however talking about our children for whom alcohol has become the drug of choice and at what price?

Motor vehicle accidents, homicides, suicides and other accidents are prevalent among our young people claiming nearly 5,000 lives annually according to national statistics. (Alcohol Alert #67, January 2006, US Department of Health and Human Services)  Perhaps less lethal but equally important is that children who participate in underage drinking can have abnormal brain development, memory loss,  attention deficit, as well as mental problems such as depression and anxiety. High school dropout rates are higher and there are lower levels of educational achievement. Underage drinking can lead to increased sexual activity and disease presence at younger ages and lead to the use of other drugs.  (Fact Sheets - Underage Drinking, Center for Disease Control, November 12, 2015)

According to a town hall meeting held on Community Health conducted this year, over 76% of participants indicated that there is an underage drinking problem in the county and 88% indicated that adults’ acceptance of underage drinking contributes to underage drinking overall. The 2014 Iowa Youth Survey found that 27% of 11 graders had at least 1 drink in the last 30 days and 15% of 11th graders had participated in binge drinking in the last 30 days. 81% of 11thh graders indicated it was easy or very easy to get alcoholic beverages in Van Buren County.

The SAFE Coalition is working with community members, merchants, schools, hospitals, local governments and others to keep our children safe and alcohol free, to teach our children about responsible alcohol use, and to raise community awareness and support.  Specifically with the Iowa Partnership for Success Grant funds the coalition is addressing the availability of alcohol to youth at community events held in public places and privately owned facilities.  The coalition would like to see policies put in place that would restrict access to alcohol by youth aged 12-20 at these events.  The recommendation of the coalition is to have written policies that require alcohol service best practices for community events.  These policies could include licenses for events in public places for alcohol to be sold, separate fenced areas for alcohol sales and consumption, IDs being checked before sales are made, wrist bands provided to those of legal age, etc.  At privately owned facilities without alcohol licenses the policies could include a separate area for alcohol consumption, IDs being checked, etc. or even no alcohol allowed at the facility. 

The Coalition works with local teens, parents and businesses to be aware of the presence and danger of underage drinking, to step up local enforcement of current laws, and to hold them responsible. The coalition is seeking support from community event organizers in public and private places to help keep youth alcohol free at their events. You can make a difference! 

If you are interested in being a part of the work of the coalition or these strategies specifically please contact the SAFE Coalition at 319-293-6412 or  For more information on how to reduce or eliminate underage drinking visit or or Van Buren County SAFE Coalition on Facebook.

The Van Buren County SAFE Coalition was awarded the Iowa Partnership for Success (IPFS) Grant in 2015 to address underage drinking and underage binge drinking in Van Buren County.  The Van Buren County SAFE Coalition’s IPFS project is funded by the Iowa Department of Public Health, through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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